The pivotal issue

I may be one of the people Lesley Riddoch is referring to when she says,

Yessers worry (more privately) that side-stepping the pivotal issue of independence, means citizens’ assemblies (CAs) will be pointless talking shops.

I am definitely a “Yesser”. Although I’m not known for keeping my concerns private; and my concern isn’t that Citizens’ Assemblies (CA) will be “pointless talking shops” – not in any general sense. It is merely that my enthusiasm for CAs is tempered by the fact that they bring nothing meaningful to the “pivotal issue” of Scotland’s constitutional status. In that regard, it is inevitable that they will be seen as a bit of a distraction – particularly by those Yes activists who have a sense of urgency about the constitutional issue perhaps not shared by Lesley.

Let me be clear; I am very much in favour of Citizens’ Assemblies. I think it is a superb idea. As is anything which promotes or facilitates popular engagement with and participation in the democratic process. The CA concept has much in common with the kind of second parliamentary chamber that I have long favoured. A Delegates Assembly, rather than being directly elected and thereby embroiled in party politics, would co-opt members from qualifying organisations such as trade unions, professional associations and single-issue campaign groups. CAs are similar enough that it would be odd indeed were I to support one and not the other.

But the constitutional issue is, as Lesley allows, pivotal. Everything turns on it. Literally, everything. There is no issue of Scottish public policy, no facet of life in Scotland, which can be divorced from the constitutional question. It is inevitably so given the fundamental nature of constitutional politics. Underlying everything is the matter of who decides. The question of where ultimate power lies and whence legitimate political authority is derived. Every policy debate eventually comes down to the question of who decides.

Which is why ‘Yessers’ such as myself worry when we read reports of ‘big names’ gathering to discuss the principles and practicalities of CAs. We worry that, among those ‘big names’ there may be more than a few of that ilk which insists we can have any kind of independence campaign we want so long as it is positive and good-humoured and receptive and constantly explaining itself and happy and clappy and BritNat-hugging and so on. We worry that, as so often happens, a good idea will suffocate under an accumulation of well-intended ‘guidelines’.

We worry when we see headlines such as that in The Herald on Monday (8 July) proclaiming ‘Citizens’ Assembly ‘is not about whether Scotland should be independent’. We are only slightly reassured when the co-chair of the CA explains that this is due to the fact that all of the things relating to independence that the CA might discuss, such as whether Scotland should have a second referendum, have already been decided. We still worry because, sensible as the limitation David Martin imposes on the CA’s remit may be, we are all too aware that other limitations and ‘guidelines’ can be made to appear just as sensible.

We worry that David Martin’s remarks appear to have have been prompted by a perceived need to reassure the CA’s Unionist critics. We worry because we know where this kind of pandering to British Nationalist whining leads.

We worry not least because David Martin couldn’t resist having a pop at the First Minister as he spoke to the Unionist press. We worry that he may have opened the door to Unionist ‘criticism’ of CAs solely intended to derail or sabotage the project.

We worry, not about Citizens’ Assemblies, but about what will be left when the ‘big names’ are done fiddling with them.

And, of course, those of us not stubbornly blind to the looming threat that ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism poses to Scotland’s democracy are concerned about distractions and time-wasting.

“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation!”

So said Alasdair Gray, paraphrasing Canadian poet Dennis Lee. Words that are etched on the minds and hearts of independence campaigners as indelibly as they are inscribed on the Scottish Parliament’s Canongate Wall. But there is a concern that some may have lost sight of the fact this better nation has yet to be created. They behave almost as if the job were already done; as if we were actually now living in those early days rather than yet aspiring to that better nation.

As people get excited about Citizens’ Assemblies and other progressive developments which mark the distinctiveness of Scotland’s politics, a word of caution is advisable. Being independent is our children’s responsibility. Becoming independent is ours. Obviously, it’s great if we can give our children a bit of a head start. But we must never lose sight of the fact that the things we build today are lacking a solid foundation.

Never forget! So long as the Union maintains its grip on Scotland, everything we have and everything we hope to leave as our legacy to future generations can be swept away with a wave of jealous Britannia’s hand. Our first and most pressing priority must be to #DissolveTheUnion.



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8 thoughts on “The pivotal issue

  1. A problem that the YES movement has is that the unionists have worked hard to atomise Scottish Society, so that we are unaware of the majority support for the Parliament and for independence. If nothing else this assembly will reveal the widespread support for things that unionists would rather we were not aware of. It cuts the other way as well.

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  2. “…Which is why ‘Yessers’ such as myself worry when we read reports of ‘big names’ gathering to discuss the principles and practicalities of CAs. We worry that, among those ‘big names’ there may be more than a few of that ilk which insists we can have any kind of independence campaign we want so long as it is positive and good-humoured and receptive and constantly explaining itself and happy and clappy and BritNat-hugging and so on. We worry that, as so often happens, a good idea will suffocate under an accumulation of well-intended ‘guidelines’…”

    I believe that I might have used the term “pointless talking shops”, albeit you express my opinion in the above paragraph. The Union stands in the way of a progressive, decent Scotland, all the Citizens Assemblies in the world are not going to be able to do a blessed thing without independence, and independence necessitates the end of the Union. Everything else is just chaff in the wind for now. Details for an independent Scotland are pointless anyway, unless they are the big details, because the minutiae cannot be decided upon until all the levers of power are with an independent Scotland.

    Trying to put off the evil hour of having to confront the British State is not going to help anyone or anything. This is not pre 1999 when the Constitutional Convention was a very pivotal and important part of the path to devolution. This is very different and cannot be treated in the same way. Nor can we afford to run another 2014 independence campaign; things will have to be very different there, too. The other matter is: anyone who believes that waiting till after Brexit will somehow propel everything into a sensible pro independence response is deluded. It simply does not work like that, and anyone really serious about independence would need to take account of how other, now-independent countries have dealt with their problems. On top of that, we need to be mindful of the fact that all recent pre-independence referendums have failed. Failure is something we need to contemplate if only to understand that a naive, happy-clappy approach is doomed, and that we need to be very certain that there is always the possibility of another failure in a second referendum. Only that understanding will force us to take seriously that independence must have a ‘battle plan’.

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    1. Lorna, when you write “Nor can we afford to run another 2014 independence campaign; things will have to be very different there, too”, why and what way(s)?
      Btw, for the avoidance of doubt, I agree we cannot run another referendum in that way, but in what way(s) do you see it being different?
      Or, to be really contentious, do you really think there will be another referendum? I am not suggesting that WM blocking a S30 order, just to be clear. My feeling about how events are unfolding increasingly reminds me of “the velvet divorce” that saw the end of Czechoslovakia, when – basically – the Czech and Slovak politicians decided they could not work together any more and acted to split the state. Polls at the time suggested support for this was something like 38%. I really cannot remember political chaos verging on anarchy like this at any time during my own 67 years. Even political events post-Dunkirk were not as chaotic (probably as well, mind you!). In times of chaos, strange things happen.

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  3. I agree completely that only by returning Scotland to nation-state status can we enact anything on the issue examples that Lesley raises via the Citizens Assemblies, admirable though the concept is.

    However, I note from Lesley’s article that the CAs “would also investigate whether a properly functioning system might need full independence”.

    Perhaps this is the real point of the exercise: to illustrate that resolution of these issues can really only be achieved in an independent Scottish state. In this way you convince and embed the benefits of Independence in those CA members who want solutions to the micro matters under discussion but who hitherto had not considered self-determination as the means to achieve them?

    Just saying.

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    1. Perhaps, as a slight nuance, the CAs might also show how issues might well be addressed within the UK just now, but could be addressed better (eg more in line with Scottish opinion) if we were independent?

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  4. The problem I have with these assemblies ,is that it’s too little too late. This should have been done 2 years ago. We don’t need more talking or throwing ideas around. We need immediate action, which many just don’t seem to understand.

    We are now in an emergency situation. It requires action not meetings or brainstorming for 6 months. We can’t wait until 2020 for our referendum. I would say we have a few weeks to do something!

    As soon as Boris steps in number 10. The coup will begin. He will install a house jock to take over the devolved powers , bit by bit. This is a Fecking crisis!

    Why are there words but no action. Words are meaningless and powerless. Action is instant,

    Get on with it Nicola!

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  5. Peter, while I agree with the need for focus – “eyes on the prize” so to speak – we also need to think about how to convince those who remain to be, and can be, convinced. It is here I think you go wrong, when you write “Being independent is our children’s responsibility. Becoming independent is ours.” Given the passage of time, in general terms you are correct, BUT (and it’s a BIG BUT) how strongly we are motivated to “Becoming independent” cannot be separated from “Being independent”. It will, given our great age, be more to do with our children than with us, but at the same time, is there not an issue about what kind of country we bequeath to them. There really can be no arguing that while “Being independent” is “our children’s responsibility”, what we bequeath them is a significant, indeed crucial influence on what they are able to do with that independence.
    First of all it is clear that there will be challenges to an independent Scotland – indeed there are challenges to any country anywhere in the world – problems they must resolve, or at least address. I cannot help but think that our cause would be enhanced by a greater willingness to acknowledge this, and, at the same time, demonstrate how they can be successfully addressed, or more successfully than under our present governmental arrangements.
    But secondly, and more importantly, we need an argument about what a future Scotland could be like. In this regard the films Phantom Power has made with Lesley Riddoch are important. However, unlike 2014 when we had to wrestle with a one size fits all White Paper with “kick me hard” written on the back page, this needs to be more nuanced – that there are a range of directions that Scotland could realistically go in, but which one(s) would be a matter for an independent Scottish electorate post-independence. Unlike for instance when we vote to Remain in the EU but get dragged out anyway.
    So, in essence, what I am suggesting is that yes there must be a very clear focus on independence, but also remembering that to convince those who remain to be convinced we have to respond to the question “why?”. That question might have no resonance for those of us already committed, but it has a great deal of resonance for those still to make that journey.

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